Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Give it one more chance... Six String Samurai (1998)

Now I gottta admit I came across this movie a rather round about way. The director Lance Mungia also directed The Crow: Wicked Prayer (a terrible, terrible movie that I'll get onto when I cover all The Crow films) but I gave him a quick look on imdb and found he'd only directed one other movie called Six String Samurai. I'm not sure why I chose to give him a second chance but to be honest who in their right mind wouldn't watch a film about a Buddy Holly lookalike who fights hundreds of bad guys with a samurai sword.

So the film's set in a post-apocalyptic alternate version of America where the Russians dropped the bomb in the 1950s and people survive in isolated shanty towns. Into this world we meet a wandering swordsman (Jeffrey Falcon) who looks a lot like a beaten
up Buddy Holly and keeps his samurai sword in a guitar strapped to his back. Much like the old Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub movies, Buddy picks up a little mute kid sidekick who tags along with him as makes his way through the desert. The goal is to get to a place called 'Lost Vegas' so that Buddy can claim the throne of rock 'n' roll. Hot on their heels is Death, a mysterious dreadlocked guitarist who dresses just like Slash from Guns 'n' Roses with a massive top hat.

On paper this film sounds great and in a lot of ways it is. It's got such a fantastic pr
emise it'd be very hard to do it wrong. If I had any complaints about the film it's that it's just too sluggish. With about 10-15 minutes cut off it this film would be perfect, as it stands it's just too padded. There's some brilliantly surreal moments in the film though and the director clearly knows how to stretch a tiny budget. One highlight is where Buddy and the Kid drop hundreds of gumballs to make their pursuers slip up.
Jeffrey Falcon does a very good job as Buddy, according to his biog he had done a series of bit parts in Hong Kong martial arts flicks prior to this but Six String Samurai was his first lead role, and he handled the fight sequences like a pro. One problem though is that the character isn't made very likeable, for the majority of the film he's trying to abandon the Kid. I know it's done to give their relationship some dynamic and have a heart warming moment towards the end where Buddy decides to finally rescue him but it's hard to like film where the central character is such an a--hole. Another problem is that the story just goes from A to B, there's just not enough plot, characters just move from one location to another (something Wicked Prayer also suffers from). The film seems content to drift along aimlessly.

Now all this sounds like I'm being pretty harsh on the film but really there is a good film underneath, you just need to be prepared that's it's not quite as awesome as it sounds. When the film came out in 1998 I think a lot of websites hyped it up a bit as being the ultimate cult film but it didn't manage to even make back its tiny $2 million budget and Jeffrey Falcon quit acting soon after. It's kind of sad because the film shows the cast and
crew had so much potential.
Being a film that revolves around music - I don't think it's ruining the ending to say that Buddy and Death (looking like Slash) go toe to toe in a sword fight that serves as a metaphorical battle of old and new rock 'n' roll - it goes without saying that the soundtrack is excellent. Brian Tyler, one of the few people to have his career take off after this, did the score mixing an old school rockabilly sound with epic fairytale-esque orchestral pieces that really adds to the scope of the film.

Lance Mungia is clearly one of those directors who has the ability to capture some great images and has great ideas for his films but struggles to tell a compelling narrative. Six String Samurai just manages to coast along on it's awesome Mad Max meets Shaw Brothers premise and if you're in the mood for a relaxed paced artily directed flick you could do much worse. If nothing else you'll never find a film with a similar premise again.

3 comments:

  1. I actually still own the VHS of this. I'm looking at it as I type this right now. I haven't seen it in forever, but remember liking the whole style of it. Like you, I thought he definitely knew how to stretch a budget and his visuals are better than they should be. I was so excited to hear he was finally going to be doing something else until I found out it was going to be a new low-budget Crow film. Oh the humanity.

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  2. Yeah, this shows so much promise. Shame Wicked Prayer was so horrible. It seems to have ended his career.

    Shame Falcon never did anything after this too. Enjoyed his performance as Buddy.

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